The Washington Post
Friday, June 1, 2001; Page A28

Colombian Paramilitary Leader Quits

By Scott Wilson
Washington Post Foreign Service

BOGOTA, Colombia, May 31 -- Carlos Castano has submitted his resignation as head of Colombia's main rightist paramilitary army, the United Self-Defense
Forces of Colombia.

The move, which his lieutenants said arose from a dispute over the paramilitary force's direction and conduct, could add a new twist to Colombia's long-running civil
war. But it was unclear whether the resignation was a genuine stepping down from the leadership post or just an impatient gesture.

After a meeting with the paramilitary army's ruling committee Wednesday night, Castano dashed off an angry few sentences "irrevocably resigning" his role as
commander in chief of the 8,000-member organization, known as the AUC. The note appeared overnight on the group's Web site, setting off a day of speculation
about whether Castano was departing Colombia's civil war, in which he is a leading figure, or whether the site was the victim of computer hackers.

"We of the AUC [are] friends and respectful of the state institutions," Castano wrote. "This principle is inviolable. Respect it."

A source close to the paramilitary army, who spoke with Castano today, said the volatile commander wrote the letter after a meeting in the northern state of Cordoba
during which he scolded top commanders for lack of discipline and "killing without reason." The AUC was responsible for massacres last year that killed more than
570 civilians, according to the Colombian military.

The ruling committee will meet to take up the resignation letter and decide whether Castano should remain as leader after four years in the job. The source said
Castano, after cooling off, would likely remain in the job despite what appears to be a split over tactics.

He and his late brother, Fidel, helped unify the disparate paramilitary groups created to combat Colombia's leftist guerrilla armies, and he has become the public face
of an army that has been enjoying rising popularity among the country's frustrated middle class.

                                               © 2001